‘There is a divine warning in the epidemic for man’ – Hungarian religious leaders address social impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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Three prominent church leaders and one academic shared their thoughts on the learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic in a roundtable discussion on national station Kossuth Rádió on Sunday. This was the first time Cardinal Péter Erdő, reformed church leader bishop Zoltán Balog, Rabbi Slomó Köves of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) and neuroscientist Szilveszter E. Vizi sat at the same table.

Erdő recalled that throughout history, epidemics have changed many things, not necessarily because people have “noticed” or learned lessons and consciously changed their lives, but because their situation has changed and this has had many consequences.

In his view, the coronavirus epidemic will also have consequences that “intelligent human thought will draw from” as a lesson, and there will also be changes independent of human thinking.

He said there are already some signs: excessive travel, globalization, constant relocation are causing massive pollution, and alternative online means of communication used out of compulsion during the epidemic are here to stay after it is over.

“The epidemic is also prompting us to rethink the value of individual jobs, as we can now see which are the ones without which society cannot function in any way,” he added.

Zoltán Balog, leader of the Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, emphasized that if humanity expects nothing but when it can return to its life before the epidemic, it will surely lose. At least, a believing minority needs to think about what they can learn from all this.

“There is a divine pedagogy in all this,” the bishop said, citing the biblical history of the Tower of Babel as an example. In the story, it seemed a punishment that God confused the language of the builders of the tower, but in fact saved people from destroying themselves and each other in their quest for Heaven. The parallel between the Tower of Babel and the pandemic is globalism, in that both affect all of humanity.

According to him, the epidemic is a warning because man did not respect the boundaries that the order of creation set for him.

“Punishment may be a strong word, but there is a divine warning in the epidemic for man. You should stop and think about whether you are going in the right direction in science, in the infinity of consumption, in imperial aspirations, in a global government taking care of everything,” he said.

“God is helping us to think about where our borders are, what needs to change,” the reformed bishop said, adding that in all changes, science is an ally of faith.

Slomó Köves, the leading rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, said that the most obvious lesson of the pandemic was that humanity, like the builders of the Tower of Babel at the time, was overconfident in believing that it could maintain its security by just relying on itself.

Academic Szilveszter E. Vizi, former president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said that the invisible, common enemy representing the fight against the virus, can even become an anti-Babe event — a Pentecostal miracle — as the common enemy forces humanity to unite.

Title image: Cardinal Péter Erdő in the Kossuth Rádió studio. (MTI/Zoltán Balogh)

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